Why the Christian School Movement is losing its steam

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Jonathan Charles's picture

I grew up in the Christian school movement (1977-1989). My parents grew up in the late 50's early 60's, in fact, my mother taught in the public school for a while. I think the prevailing attitude when I was growing up was one of complete separation from the world. By "complete," I mean not having anything to do at all with the public school system. But a number of Christian parents I know of have come to believe that being separated from the world doesn't necessarily mean withdrawing from the school system. They feel they can raise godly kids who attend public school and who may have to confront ideas that don't fit in with a Christian worldview.

Another reason I have seen is that Christian parents don't want to make academic compromises. They want their child to have a year of pre-calc, Latin, advanced placement courses, etc. Many Christian schools cannot provide that. Christian schools have emphasized the word "Christian" in Christian education, but haven't emphasized the word "education." True, kids in Christian elementary school get their phonics down and learn to read early, but by the high school years, they are left in the dust by their equally academically motivated public school peers.

My son has just entered high school at small Christian school. I'm leaning to him taking summer classes at the local junior college (which they allow 11th and 12th graders to do) in order to get some of what he will miss out on in Christian school. The other option I've found to supplement his HS ed. is Liberty University Online which lets hs upperclassman do the same thing.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

It's probably fair to denote the 'Christian School Movement' as a response to the secularization of public schools, but other factors deserve a nod. The first surge in religious schools in America occurred around the time that compulsory education laws were passed, and was spear-headed to a great degree by the Catholic church. There was also a rise in the number of religious schools formed to avoid federally mandated racial segregation.

The explosion of Christian schools in the 70's and 80's seems to definitely tie into the desire to escape gov't regulation of curriculum and religious instruction, propelled by the Moral Majority and 'religious right'. The problem comes when you decide to do something that you aren't sure you can do well, and when other important factors are completely ignored- like a focus on equipping parents to train their children at home... which IMO started with the popularization of Sunday School and parents beginning the slow process of abdicating the teaching of their children to the church. But that's another bunny trail.

In any case, the reasons most cite for the decline in Christian schools, and that I can agree with, is that there is a serious lack of quality overall, the fact that much of the student body is unregenerate (which means the only 'Christian' part of a Christian school is the staff and some of the curriculum), and the prohibitive cost.

My parents sent me to a Christian school when I entered the 7th grade because they believed that our education should be rooted in Scripture. My parents were also weary of battling the regular sexual assault of their daughter (that would be me) that the staff and teachers considered to be harmless playground games. Although today if a bunch of boys chased a girl around on the playground until they caught her and held her down while all the boys took turns kissing her, then lots of people would probably end up in court. But back in those days, girls had to just deal with it because it was 'innocent' play. Uh-huh.

Going to a Christian school really didn't solve that problem though, as I've discussed in other threads. If a large percentage of the student body is lost, then much of the ideal Christian school scenario goes out the window. (Prov. 13:20, 1 Cor. 15:33)

It seems to me that if Christian schools are going to survive and thrive, then churches are going to have to cooperate ( http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys.php ][img ]http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys/smiley-shocked004.gif[/img ] )to provide solid academics, effective mentoring and support for parents, and the kinds of course offerings and extra-curricular activities that will help the students to be competent and competitive when it comes to college and career.

Greg Wilson's picture

First my street cred...
1) My father was on the founding school board of the church's Christian School that my brother, sister & wife graduated from
2) I taught in a Christian School
3) I pastored a church that had a Christian School
4) I have had children in Christian Schools for 20 years straight (the last one will graduate this June)
5) I have paid tens of thousands of dollars in tuition

And yet I am ambivalent about the whole thing, in fact, when asked, I advise parents not to do it.

Mainly, it is because of the failure of the Christian School parents to teach their Christian School students acceptable (Christlike) behavior.

The same problems in public schools are found in Christian Schools. The promoting of popular kids (jocks, etc)in spite of their hypocrisy, the bullying of the weak and different are made worse because (although you expect it in public school) you hope that the Christian School kids would be different. This increases the problem, because now is your child not only wounded by these things, he or she is disappointed in Christianity in general. It is no wonder to me that so many leave the church.

Greg Wilson

BryanBice's picture

Greg Wilson wrote:
First my street cred...
1) My father was on the founding school board of the church's Christian School that my brother, sister & wife graduated from
2) I taught in a Christian School
3) I pastored a church that had a Christian School
4) I have had children in Christian Schools for 20 years straight (the last one will graduate this June)
5) I have paid tens of thousands of dollars in tuition

And yet I am ambivalent about the whole thing, in fact, when asked, I advise parents not to do it.

Mainly, it is because of the failure of the Christian School parents to teach their Christian School students acceptable (Christlike) behavior.

The same problems in public schools are found in Christian Schools. The promoting of popular kids (jocks, etc)in spite of their hypocrisy, the bullying of the weak and different are made worse because (although you expect it in public school) you hope that the Christian School kids would be different. This increases the problem, because now is your child not only wounded by these things, he or she is disappointed in Christianity in general. It is no wonder to me that so many leave the church.

I had to double check who posted this...thought maybe I did it in my sleep!

A. Carpenter's picture

Quote:
There was also a rise in the number of religious schools formed to avoid federally mandated racial segregation.

This is really interesting because in our neck of the woods (SW Alabama), these schools were formed to avoid federally mandated racial integration. The result was that because most of these segregationists also called themselves "Christian," and most of the families and faculty could claim active membership in one of the dozens of local churches, this passed for "Christian" education, though the curriculum and philosophy remained secular.

Now in 2010, almost no one (can't think of one) in our area is familiar with traditional, Christian education like so many SI members have known. The Christian School movement in our area isn't dying; it was never born. However, homeschooling is somewhat popular and accepted.

There is a need for a school with a Christian philosophy of education coupled with quality academics. Both are lacking except in the rare homeschool environment. Any suggestions?

Faith is obeying when you can't even imagine how things might turn out right.

Jim's picture

Since I was not saved until the age of 20 (1969), I missed the whole opportunity to attend a Christian school.

  • It strikes me that the rise of the Christian school movement coincides with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desegregation_busing_in_the_United_States ]desegregation busing and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engel_v._Vitale ]the school prayer ruling .
  • The Christian day school failures seem to be where small churches undertook on their own to have a school. I can think of scores of churches that folded because their schools sunk them.
  • The successful Christian schools seem to be the ones either hosted (owned by) by a singular large church OR sponsored by a consortium of churches.

The model I favor would be:

  • An independent (of a single church) Christian school sponsored by a consortium of churches
  • A cross-denominational model that can agree on a common doctrinal statement. (I think of the American Council of Christian Churches that has Baptists, Presbyterians, and Evangelical Methodists as its constituents
  • With a governing board comprised of business persons, parents, and pastors

Examples:

  • Denominational specific (in this case Baptist): I tried to find one but the one I was thinking of is no longer sponsored by multiple congregations
  • Cross denominational: http://tkcs.org/Default.aspx ]The Kings Christian School

What I see as missing:

  • True excellence in education
  • A financial model that adequately pays the faculty and staff
Ron Bean's picture

Twenty five years ago I had an extended conversation about Christian schools with the leader of a well-known Christian institution of higher learning. (Is that vague enough?) He said that he expected successful "Christian" schools would become essentially parochial schools with an emphasis on high academics and de-emphasis on things like chapel and Bible classes in order to compete with other schools. He expressed little confidence in pastor's/church's ability and resolve to maintain high standards for academics and personnel. He mentioned how sometimes we fight a battle to raise a standard. Then we build a flag pole (institution) to hold up that standard. Then we struggle to keep the flag pole standing and never notice that our standard has blown away.

When I see Christian schools where Bible class is an elective or just a glorified Sunday School class and/or without a qualified science or math teacher on the faculty and/or using DVD's to teach classes, I agree that the Christian school movement is in a state of decline. When I see a fine young man with a desire to teach in a Christian school graduate with a degree in History and then be told by numerous Christian schools that he wasn't needed because "anyone can teach history", I wonder if the schools really care.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

A. Carpenter wrote:
Quote:
There was also a rise in the number of religious schools formed to avoid federally mandated racial segregation.

This is really interesting because in our neck of the woods (SW Alabama), these schools were formed to avoid federally mandated racial integration.


Instead of quoting your post, I almost edited it! Ack! Not to mention the fact that I meant to use the word 'integration' instead of 'segregation'. Maybe I should go back to bed and start this day over. http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys.php ][img ]http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys/smiley-sleep026.gif[/img ]

A. Carpenter's picture

Ron Bean wrote:
... He expressed little confidence in pastor's/church's ability and resolve to maintain high standards for academics and personnel... ...When I see Christian schools where Bible class is an elective or just a glorified Sunday School class and/or without a qualified science or math teacher on the faculty and/or using DVD's to teach classes, I agree that the Christian school movement is in a state of decline. When I see a fine young man with a desire to teach in a Christian school graduate with a degree in History and then be told by numerous Christian schools that he wasn't needed because "anyone can teach history", I wonder if the schools really care.

Is this perhaps symptomatic of a general disdain for quality education in the preparation for pastoral ministry? Or are we in a vicious circle - pastors who disdain quality academics will not sustain quality academics, resulting in a new generation of churches and pastors who perpetuate the error? I am reminded of a recent fundamentalist publication in which the editor was "rebutting" a different theological viewpoint from his own, and he attributed his opponents' error to "someone trying to be a scholar."

Faith is obeying when you can't even imagine how things might turn out right.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Greg Wilson wrote:
Mainly, it is because of the failure of the Christian School parents to teach their Christian School students acceptable (Christlike) behavior.

The same problems in public schools are found in Christian Schools. The promoting of popular kids (jocks, etc)in spite of their hypocrisy, the bullying of the weak and different are made worse because (although you expect it in public school) you hope that the Christian School kids would be different. This increases the problem, because now is your child not only wounded by these things, he or she is disappointed in Christianity in general. It is no wonder to me that so many leave the church.


Christian school kids aren't different because too many of them aren't Christians. Just as having Christian parents doesn't guarantee the regeneration of the child, neither does BJU or A Beka curriculum, Chapel three times a week, and a Christian staff guarantee a Christ-like atmosphere amongst the student body.

The danger of Christian schools is that they can fall into the trap of teaching conformity to Biblical principles and the counterfeiting of spiritual fruit, without the child ever experiencing salvation. It'd probably be better if Christian schools operated on the assumption that the kids are lost instead of assuming they are saved.

Jonathan Charles's picture

Ron Bean wrote:
When I see a fine young man with a desire to teach in a Christian school graduate with a degree in History and then be told by numerous Christian schools that he wasn't needed because "anyone can teach history", I wonder if the schools really care.

I have heard that too often. I heard a principal say "A good teacher can teach anything." That scares me that a principal in Christian education would think that it essentially doesn't matter what a person spent 4 or more years studying in college. Once they get in a Christian school, they can teach anything.

I sympathize with Christian schools. They do have a hard time finding people with good qualifications to come teach. Who wants to support a family on less than 20K? As a result, the school declines becasue parents get nervous as the high school years come on.

Jim's picture

A better model?

  • Emphasize home schooling up through the 6th grade
  • Have Christian schools for grades 7-12

I'm convinced that home schooling is a better option for younger children

I'm especially impressed with the home schoolers who form a home school group for combined activities like

  • Sports
  • Extra curricular activities
  • Specialized training
Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

A. Carpenter wrote:
There is a need for a school with a Christian philosophy of education coupled with quality academics. Both are lacking except in the rare homeschool environment. Any suggestions?

There seems to be an either/or problem in the perception of Christian education- the focus is on teaching basic Bible doctrines and for academics using only Christian materials, and everything is considered 'objectionable'. IOW, classic lit is often not covered to any depth, modern lit isn't covered at all, and the curriculum seems geared to teaching kids what to think instead of how to think. Ray Bradbury is not the anti-Christ, people.

Education of any sort, be it Sunday School, YG, or Christian school, should be viewed (IMO) as a support and partnership with the home. Parents are the ones who receive multiple mandates in Scripture to teach their children, so they ought to be primary in directing their child's educational path. We can't find a school, Christian or public, that doesn't expect my dh and I to stand aside while the 'professionals' teach our kids. As long as that's the prevailing attitude, we're homeschooling.

The 'model' school in my dream world would include some of Bro. Peet's suggestions- a school formed in cooperation with several churches in the area (that can agree on important matters of faith and practice), quality teachers paid a living wage- and take some clues from the homeschoolers by recruiting mentors (especially amongst retirees) and arranging for apprenticeships. I also agree that home education for elementary grades would be good, but there's no reason that churches can't form a homeschool coop that phases into a college/career prep focused traditional high school. Parental involvement would be a requirement. There are also many low cost but effective resources available, so $100 textbooks are NOT essential. As a matter of fact, they are often an insulting waste of money, and lifting two or three of them at once can be dangerous. http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys.php ][img ]http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys/smiley-sick003.gif[/img ]

Also, curriculum does not necessarily have to be 'Christian' as long as the staff understands how to teach from a Biblical worldview. For instance, I use (free) http://www.sparknotes.com/ Sparknotes for literature. Part of thinking critically is to have something to examine, dissect, ponder, and challenge one's assumptions.

A. Carpenter's picture

Good catch, Susan! A Christian philosophy of education ought to imply quality academics, oughtn't it? You have exposed an inconsistency in my thinking - I have heretofore expressed my educational ideals in terms of two pillars, but in reality, there is only 1. I suppose I have been capitulating to the desire I hear expressed around me for a Christian "environment," knowing all along the pitfalls that have been much of the grist for this thread. So I have been somewhat irrationally equating philosophy and environment, assuming that one will take care of the other, and idealizing the academics independently - precisely the problem that many Christian schools have!

Let's face it - there is no such thing as a Christian school, any more than there is such a thing as a Christian country. We can have Christian faculty, Christian parents, even Christian students, and we can use curricula that operates from a Christian perspective and is published by Christians. We can have strict entrance requirements, enforce order and discipline, preach the Bible, and sprinkle memory verses throughout the day. But we cannot make Christians.

There is, however, an approach to education that is distinctly Christian because it is distinctly biblical, and it will foster an orderly environment, include the Gospel on many levels, and still promote the highest levels of academic excellence. This can be done in a traditional schoolhouse, as well as at home. However, in the absence of an affordable and sustainable school, I like the idea of a "co-op" because it makes better quality academics more attainable to more students.

Faith is obeying when you can't even imagine how things might turn out right.

CPHurst's picture

We have three families in our church who had to take their kids out of Christian school because the cost was out of hand. For me to put my kids in the same school I went to would cost more than twice as much. Christian schooling is becoming more and more of an elite education like getting a Classical education (which is even more expensive!).

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I was reading http://www.iwf.org/inkwell/show/23748.html this article this morning, and wondering how school choice in the form of vouchers has affected Christian schools, if at all- and if school vouchers become more common, could that result in a revitalization of Christian schools? What would be the ramifications of Christian schools accepting vouchers?